I live in a house with a ghost.
That is probably something that people would expect me to say, a writer of horror, specifically a writer of ghost stories. My dark red hair, my pale skin, my goth girl vibe. You perhaps think I am one of those people who feels spirits. A horror writer would be the “type” to ghost hunt, to be enamored with old creepy Victorian houses abandoned buildings, and cemeteries. You would be right by all those things. I am “sort of” psychic. I do feel the energy of old buildings. I feel the memories that replay inside empty rooms. I see shadows that turn into people, that weave in and out of the past and the present.
So no, you are not surprised when I say, “I live in a house with a ghost.”
The thing that is strange about this ghost, is that it did not exist when I first moved into this home six years ago. You see it is a specific kind of ghost that lives in this house with me. My ghost who haunts me is very much alive.
I live in a house with a ghost, a ghost of a person who once was, and now is not. She is not dead, but she is not really living. My Mother, she is the ghost, the haunting presence in my life in my ever-smaller pandemic world. She is the faded shadow of a person who once made men laugh, who was vain, and flighty, a woman who my father had told me looked like Elizabeth Taylor when they met. A woman who spoke French to her friends when the gossip was too much for a child to hear.
Her life had always been hard, a brutal childhood left emotional and mental scars that have never faded or healed. Her scars seeped into her life every day. When she lost my father, the love of her life, when she was in her early fifties, she was broken and aged before her time. She became an old woman then. This was twenty years ago, when the slow fade began. It was subtle at first, there was grief, and then there was cancer, the first time. It was in her breast, near her broken heart.
When I arrived back in my home state six years ago with my now fiancé, I was reeling from an assault and needed to move to live someplace safe. We landed on my mother’s doorstep, for what we thought would be a few months to get on our feet. This was two months before she entered the hospital the first time. She came out a little paler, a little sicker.
The next year she had a massive heart attack, it coincided with the election, these things are plaited together in my memory as one emotional nightmare. I started thinking about writing a novel at this point, but my brain was in too many places, I was scattered. I was turning into a caregiver for someone who had always been a caregiver for me. The following year, almost to the day, cancer visited her again, this time in her lungs.
The thing about this ghost that shares my home, she is a fighter, and she fought. And she won. There was a price though, for her, for me… she came home smaller, sicker, slower. She came home with one lung and chronic pneumonia. Sometimes I could hear her breathing, rooms away, and I was reminded of the my father’s death rattle, and I could feel the shadows growing darker in the corners of our home, I could feel her drifting a little further away from us, from reality, from life itself.
Her next heart attack happened, and I was at work, she called me there instead of calling 911, she was confused, and I could hear the life slipping away from her. She was on one phone and I was calling 911 on another phone. I stayed on the line until the paramedics came in the door, I was not on the line when her heart stopped while in our driveway. I was not there when she died and came back.
Remember, I live in a house with a ghost, and she fights.
She was gone for a month this time, and when she came back, she was even smaller still, even more detached. Now she was not just sick, it was more. She started calling me by her sister’s name, her sister who died when I was ten. She started screaming in her sleep, having conversations with my father, now gone from this world close to twenty years.
I could feel them, the ghosts, the real ones…remember I am a horror writer, I do these things. She could feel them too, their hands reaching out to her, their fingers brushing against hers. But, she fought, she pulled her hand back, balled it in a fist and kept it close to her chest.
When she went to the hospital the next time, she was gone for a few weeks, it was respiratory failure this time. I was twenty thousand words into my debut novel Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent. It is a ghost story because there was no other story I could tell. My characters suddenly could not breathe either, one had tumors in his lungs that looked like the small fists of an infant. This was her cancer. Another character had been in a car accident, shattering his hip and femur, he walked with a limp, and a cane. I wrote this, I wrote him.
I created my main character’s trauma when my mother, my ghost was gone. But then she returned, even smaller, even more tangentially holding onto reality. The years of childhood abuse, the mental illness, the physical illness had taken their toll, she was fading in and out of the now and the then. Some days her eyes would not focus. Some days she would wander the house, a swirling mixture of anger, sadness, and confusion. I did not know how to help her.
I still don’t.
A month later she had a seizure and fell. Her hip shattered, and so did her femur. I felt as if I manifested this, the injury my main character had was suddenly in front of me, screaming. I realized I had not done him justice, that my fiction was weak it was not this, a screaming ghost, bones snapping, and yet still fighting. My character, Adam, he didn’t fight, he leaned into the pain and let it consume him. The ghost that lives in my house, she fought. She was gone for a month, she lived for a little while in a “facility” where the people on her floor would scream their nightmares through the night, keeping everyone awake. We would visit daily and stare into the faces of ghosts that were still breathing.
That was horror. Being trapped in their worst memories, having them play over and over in their heads, while they screamed… while they all screamed.
It was in this month that I finished Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent. It was in that month that I realized that the ghost in my ghost story was far less frightening than the elderly man in my story he clung to his life as if it were a weapon.
I learned how powerful grief is when it is tied to horror, and I learned that grieving for someone who still is alive is an endlessly complicated bag of emotions. I learned that the mother/daughter dynamic is fraught with memories and complications, especially when the roles are reversed.
I live in a house with a ghost. I grieve for her, even though she is alive, but somehow now a stranger.
Jennifer Anne Gordon is a gothic horror novelist. Her work includes Beautiful, Frightening and Silent (2020) which is a Kindle Book Review Award Winner, and From Daylight to Madness (The Hotel book 1), and coming out in November 2020, When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk (The Hotel book 2).
When not scribbling away (ok, typing frantically) she enjoys traveling with her fiancé and dance partner, teaching her dog ridiculous tricks (like ‘give me a kiss’ and ‘what hand is the treat in?’ ok these are not great tricks.) as well as taking photos of abandoned buildings and haunted locations.
She is a Leo, so at the end of the day she just thinks about her hair.
For more information and benevolent stalking, please visit her website at jenniferannegordon.com
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/jenniferannegordon
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/JenniferAnneGordonAuthor